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From pig pens to drive-ins - why our favourite festivals may never be the same


With our major events and festivals working feverishly to be back within months, COVID-19 measures may mean things may never again be the same for festival-goers, as Katrina Beikoff reports

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A field of pig pens each fencing in “house parties” for members of individual households.

Piling into the car to watch headline music acts under headlights like at a retro drive-in.

Taking to the water in a flotilla of runabouts to watch a floating stage or screen.

These may be how audiences will experience major events and festivals in COVID times – and beyond.

Griffith University mass gathering expert Dr Jamie Ranse, who is leading the development of Queensland’s framework around how mass gatherings and events can return under COVID-19, said prioritising health may transform major events forever.

As organisers work to bring back festivals, events and outdoor concerts to Queensland, Ranse and Griffith University’s Mass Gathering Collaboration have been working behind the scenes to help formulate the Queensland Industry Framework for Safe Events.

The framework, endorsed by Queensland Health and produced for the Queensland Tourism Industry Council along with Tourism and Events Queensland and the Department of State Development, Tourism and Innovation, serves as a guide for event organisers for events in Queensland.

What is clear, according to Ranse, is that major events may never look the same again.

“We won’t see events happening like they have in the past,” Ranse told InQueensland.

“Instead what we’re going to see is events, if they want to run, they are going to have to be innovative about how they do that.

“If you go to an event that normally has a crowd and lots of people moshing together, that’s just not going to happen in the world of COVID, so event organisers have to come up with different strategies about how to keep people segregated.”

Organisers of Byron Bay music festival Bluesfest last week revealed they were forging ahead with plans for the 2021 event, scheduled for April 1-5 and featuring Bon Iver, Patti Smith and Jimmy Barnes as headline acts.

Bluesfest director Peter Noble told InQueensland he was determined to help Australia’s live music industry to return to some sense of normality and would do “whatever it takes” to hold the event – in a way that was safe.

Brisbane Festival has confirmed it will go ahead September 4-26, taking events to suburban cul-de-sacs as an answer to taking the art to people instead of taking people to the art.

The Gold Coast’s Bleach Festival has also announced it will go ahead in November. Also on the Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise Live, Cooly Rocks On, Groundwater Country Music Festival and Blues on Broadbeach are working to return, while the Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show has announced a new event later this year and the Crafted Beer & Cider Festival in Broadbeach on September 12 has confirmed it will proceed.

In Toowoomba, more than 170,000 blooms have been planted across major parks and public spaces ahead of the Carnival Flowers, which will be held September 18-27.

But other major events including popular music festival Splendour in the Grass, the CG600 supercars event, the Gold Coast Marathon and the Pan Pacific Masters Games are yet to morph into COVID-appropriate form.

“Southeast Queensland is definitely the playground for events nationally, we have a lot of major event in the regions and it’s definitely an economic driver,” Ranse said.

“What we’ve seen in the past with events and with the nature of events, is that they’re often a social activity where people gather.

“In COVID times we just can’t have events running the same way that they have been.”

Ensuring physical distancing and the health of event attendees was key, he said.

Pig pen structures or platforms where people from one household could gather in one space segregated from people in other households but all in a big field was one option to allow major music festivals and even Christmas carols to go ahead, he said.

“It’s so people can have house parties together, but separate from one another.

“We’ve also had plans to have people in cars at events like at a drive-in.

“For marathons or mass participation events it might include staggered starting points or waves of starters to keep the participants distanced as well as crowds that gather at start or finish lines.

“I am sure we will see some things we haven’t thought of before as these events start up again.”

Around Australia and internationally, events are also starting to return with physical distancing plans.

In France, Cinema sur l’Eau (cinema on the water) will mark the return of Paris Plages, an annual event in the French capital that creates temporary beaches along the Seine and the Bassin de la Villette during summer.

The physical distancing by boat echoes Sydney’s floating cinema on Sydney Harbour where people can putt along in their personal craft or take a cruise to watch the show.

Ranse said each event was unique and needed its own plan that prioritised people’s health and protected them from the spread of coronavirus.

“The COVID situation at the moment has definitely put health at the fore and everything else behind, whereas in the past from an event perspective, it was very much everything else at the front and health behind.

“From a health perspective, we have really struggled to be able to engage with events and say, hold on, we need to look after the population of people who are attending the event and we also need to look after the population of people surrounding the event so we don’t draw ambulances and health resources away from the community to the event.

“Pre-COVID, the health approach to major events was a bit haphazard. Post-COVID, perhaps event organising will be in favour of health.”

This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas

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